Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Baptism of John and Jesus, 2

Yesterday we began a reflection on two conjoined baptisms found in Luke/Acts. They both center around the phrase "I [John] baptize you with water...He [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." We concluded that John's baptism with water showed outwardly the inward change of belief and behavior affected by repentance. We also noted that Jesus participated in, practiced and proscribed this baptism with water.

...He [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Jesus would not only continue the baptism with water, he would begin a more powerful (Luke 3.16) baptism. This baptism would involve the Spirit and fire. As people believe the Good news, Jesus would pour out the Holy Spirit into their hearts (Romans 5.5,) This baptism would bring power into the lives of the believer (Acts 1.4-8.) This first happened on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2.1-3) and several subsequent times.

Power results from this immersion into the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness resulted from the immersion into water. The baptism with water symbolized the cleansing of that forgiveness. The baptism with the Spirit actualized the purification that amplifies power. This second baptism included fire. Fire can purify. The strength of any reagent grows as the diluting additives are purified out. Ivory soap cleans effectively because it is 99.44% pure soap with very little additives for color or fragrance.

"I [John] baptize you with water...He [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Peter recalls these words years later at the home of the God-fearing Roman Centurian Cornelius (Acts 11.16.) As Peter preached the Good News, Jesus sent His Holy Spirit on the man and his household (Acts 10.44-48.) Peter made the connection between this baptism with the Holy Spirit [of Jesus] and that of John with water. Even these non-Jewish people had been baptized by Jesus with the Spirit so they should be baptized with water by His disciples.

There are at least two other incidents involving the baptism of John with water and the baptism of Jesus with the Spirit (Acts 18.24-26 and Acts 19.3-4.) Together these all show early Christ followers believed that both were the normal experience of new believers. They saw the connection and necessity of both John's baptism with water and Jesus' baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Lord send your power!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Baptism of John and Jesus

Luke/Acts records two conjoined accounts of baptism. The Gospel according to Luke retells the ministry of John the Baptizer. The Acts of the Apostles recounts among others, the ministry of Peter to the household of Cornelius. The words prophetic in John and fulfilled in the mind of Peter form the nexus of these baptisms. I [John] baptize you with water...He [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

I [John] baptize you with water...
John presented his baptism as one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3.3.) Forgiveness was the result of the prerequisite change of mind. Josh held participants in his baptism to a high expectation of "fruit in keeping with repentance." (3.8.) he refused to baptize some and admitted others. When confronted with his expectation, some in the crowd asked for clarification. They needed assistance in understanding what repentance looked like.

John gave three examples of "fruit in keeping with repentance." First, the truly repentant are concerned for the welfare of others.  They share when they have something to wear or eat (verse 11.) Second, The truly repentant don't take advantage of others (verses 12-13.) They recognize the rights of both themselves and others. Lastly, the truly repentant cultivate contentment with what they have and don't take by force what belongs to others (verse 14.) Redirected minds redirect actions.

John's baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins emphasized the relation of the individual to the Covenant God offered rather than that of the people of God to that same Covenant. This call literally "laid the ax to the root of the tree" of dispassionate, disconnected relating to YHWH who passionately performed His Covenant duties. Claiming to belong, by natural birth alone, to the People of God did not suffice. "God can raise up children for Abraham" from inanimate, dispassionate objects like the river rocks lying along the Jordan river banks. Every individual needed to choose for themselves.

At least a few, and perhaps many, found offense in this call to personal responsibility rather than national identity. These had disconnected personal participation in the Covenant from the benefits of belonging to the Covenant People. Then, as now, God's grace invites the faithful to partner with Him in the work in them and in the world (2 Corinthians 6.1.) Personal responsibility, not group identity, produces "fruit in keeping with repentance."

But John defines repentance in terms of interactions with our fellowman. Answering the call for individual response to God's offer of Covenant finds expression in social responsibility. While no one can count on family (Abraham's children) or religious affiliation (Judaism) or geographic location (Judah, Jerusalem: capitals) for salvation, we express our saving relationship through these.

John's Baptism with Water physically demonstrated an inner change. The participant left the baptism changed -- dry became wet. One does not have to read creatively to imagine that this act could have been a dunking. As the participant was symbolically buried in the river, the crowd witnessed the end of their old way of believing and behaving. As they rose, the crowd saw a resurrection to their new way of believing and behaving.

Jesus affirms this baptism of repentance by participating in it (verse 21.) His presence sanctioned this baptism. He later commissions His disciples to continue this repentance-leading-to-forgiveness baptism (John 3.26, John 4.1-2.) His practice continued the baptism begun by John. Our Lord's final words to them were to "go...baptizing" (Matthew 28.19-20.) These facts bond the John's Baptism with Water with Jesus' Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Prayer of a Righteous Person

Reading daily devotions from Our Daily Bread, I was directed to read James 5. This passage deals with the prayer of a righteous man (person.) My reading this morning caused me to consider the connection between the prayer of a righteous person and its immediate context. The previous comment is about confessing sin to other believers and praying for each other. The prayer here is related to the confession of sin. It makes most sense that the prayer is for forgiveness of the confessing believer.

How interesting that I, along with most of Christendom, have applied this truth about prayer being powerful and effective to the accomplishing of signs and wonders.

Further challenge to my usual read, the reference to powerfully-praying Elijah points to binding and releasing. Elijah prayed and God bound up the regular rainfall. He prayed again and God released the pent-up precipitation. Our Lord Jesus Christ told Peter that, in connection to his confession of the God-revealed truth of Jesus' Divine Messiahship, He was issuing the "Keys to the Kingdom." With them Peter would bind and release things on earth in conjunction with them being bound/released in Heaven.

When we confess to a fellow believer, we see the sign of our forgiveness from our Heavenly Father in the face of our brother/sister.

Their prayer for us in this exposed, shame-filled and doubt-vulnerable moment binds up the power of the hidden sin to dominate our thoughts and behaviors. This praying brother/sister binds up our heart and spirit broken by the guilt of failure and breach of trust. They bind the ability of our Enemy to exploit our weakness into an enslaved cycle of defeat. We now have an ally in our personal struggle with temptation toward this sin.

Simultaneously to the binding power of prayer, this fellow Christ-follower at the time of our confession releases as well. We experience forgiveness as a release. We are set free from the culpability of our wrong--committed or omitted.  This prayer releases assurance of reconciliation into our spirit. A fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit empowers us to "go and sin [in this particular way] no more" as our sister/brother releases it in prayer.

One last touchpoint can be seen between the powerful prayer and confession of sin. The person declared powerful and effective in pray is the "righteous." James could have referred to a devout person or a Spirit-filled person or a gifted person or a believing person. His choice of righteous ties directly into the covenant of grace God offers through Jesus Christ. Righteous carries the connotation of "right behaving or rightly relating to the Law." This covenant keeper stands as a foil to the rule breaker.  The concern here is not miraculous proof of God, but rightly relating to God.

Elijah stood for God in the covenant of Sinai as he confronted Ahab, Jezebel and the 400 prophets (all who had abandoned YHWH for Baal) there on Mt. Carmel. The drought and the rain were a call to return to the LORD and renew the Covenant He offered. This call culminated in the challenge to follow whichever deity answered prayer by fire. While spectacular and miraculous, the emphasis of the passage is a renewal of covenant relations with the True and Living LORD.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective in dealing with sin. God uses our Christian community to effect forgiveness and reconciliation. Let us all humbly open ourselves to this means of  grace so often abandoned by Protestantism.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Broken Cisterns - 4

After more than two years, we take our final look at Broken Cisterns.

Jeremiah declares these broken cisterns are cracked and cannot hold water.

Even a perfectly executed cistern cut from solid rock can be emptied when there is no rain to replenish it. The water may stagnate over time and cease to be potable. Debris or animals may fall in and contaminate the water with decay and disease. Any or all of these are the short-comings of a perfect cistern.

But the verdict pronounced by the LORD indicates these cisterns were made with fatal flaws. These alternatives to the Life-giving LORD leak. They function below their design. They miss their own mark and purpose. Though made to hold run-off water, these cracked cisterns can't even do that.

This imagery echoes back to the fatal choice of the first humans in God's very good garden. They sought to be more, attain more, improve more than they were fresh from the hand of their Divine Creator. What they had in God was perfect and in seeking to add to it, they achieved only the diminishing of what they once were and had.

Both the promise of the forbidden fruit of knowledge of good and evil and idols fall short. They lessen rather than add to the lives of those who turn to them. All the effort, time, investment and planning drains way to emptiness. 

Broken people produce broken things. The Fall fractures our final drafts. All we can make are sloppy copies. Choosing to forsake our Covenant LORD doesn't just miss His Goodness or diminish living a little bit. Our self-made holes fail utterly and leave us with nothing but a gaping gash in our empty soul.

The choice seems clear: limitless life in loving covenant with our LORD or vacant, vacuous want in the broken cisterns of our willful well-digging. Yet, the LORD's people continue this pitiable exchange.